It’s been one month since Jerry Sandusky was convicted of sexually assaulting 10 boys over 15 years, “a swift and emphatic end to a case that shattered Penn State’s image and brought down Hall of Fame football coach Joe Paterno,” as ESPN stated at the time. Yesterday, Paterno’s downfall manifested in the removal of the bronze statue of him that stood in front of Beaver Stadium, though only after much back and forth on the issue. ESPN reports that in spite of Penn State’s attempt to erase the stain that the Sandusky scandal has left on the college’s beloved football program, Paterno’s name will remain on the campus library, as a way of showing gratitude for the millions of dollars he and his wife donated to support the University’s academic programs.
Penn State president Rodney Erickson released a statement saying that in the end he felt that not removing the Paterno statue would cause ”a recurring wound to the multitude of individuals across the nation and beyond who have been the victims of child abuse.” ESPN notes that “The decision came 10 days after a scathing report by former FBI director Louis J. Freeh found that Paterno, with three other top Penn State administrators, had concealed allegations of child sexual abuse made against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. The Freeh report concluded their motive was to shield the university and its football program from negative publicity.”
But what many football fans are up in arms about is the $60 million sanction the NCAA placed against Penn State, along with a “four-year football postseason ban and a vacation of all wins dating to 1998,” meaning Paterno will no longer hold the title of the “winningest coach” in college football history. Paterno’s family released a somewhat troubling statement in response to the NCAA’s actions which proves that they are (perhaps understandably) in denial about the role Joe Paterno played in allowing Jerry Sandusky to systematically sexually abuse vulnerable children. It reads:
Sexual abuse is reprehensible, especially when it involves children, and no one starting with Joe Paterno condones or minimizes it. The horrific acts committed by Jerry Sandusky shock the conscience of every decent human being. How Sandusky was able to get away with his crimes for so long has yet to be fully understood, despite the claims and assertions of the Freeh report.
The release of the Freeh report has triggered an avalanche of vitriol, condemnation and posthumous punishment on Joe Paterno. The NCAA has now become the latest party to accept the report as the final word on the Sandusky scandal. The sanctions announced by the NCAA today defame the legacy and contributions of a great coach and educator without any input from our family or those who knew him best.
That the President, the Athletic Director and the Board of Trustees accepted this unprecedented action by the NCAA without requiring a full due process hearing before the Committee on Infractions is an abdication of their responsibilities and a breach of their fiduciary duties to the University and the 500,000 alumni. Punishing past, present and future students of the University because of Sandusky’s crimes does not serve justice. This is not a fair or thoughtful action; it is a panicked response to the public’s understandable revulsion at what Sandusky did.
The point of due process is to protect against this sort of reflexive action. Joe Paterno was never interviewed by the University or the Freeh Group. His counsel has not been able to interview key witnesses as they are represented by counsel related to ongoing litigation. We have had no access to the records reviewed by the Freeh group. The NCAA never contacted our family or our legal counsel. And the fact that several parties have pending trials that could produce evidence and testimony relevant to this matter has been totally discounted.
Unfortunately all of these facts have been ignored by the NCAA, the Freeh Group and the University.
This statement, though it contains some fair points, is made laughable by the flawed premise of its opening sentence. Joe Paterno did condone the child sexual abuse going on at Penn State by turning a blind eye to it and even going so far as to avoid turning Sandusky in. I’m sure Paterno’s family is hurting, but at some point they’re going to have to accept that their husband and father wasn’t just the winning hero they thought he was. He was also complicit in a very horrible set of abuses for which the repercussions will reverberate at Penn State for many years to come.
Paterno family statement via The Washington Post.
Photo credit: Flickr user pennstatelive